Instead of ‘getting intimate’ with the contents of our consciousness – i.e. whatever is going on right at this moment – we create conceptual distance and then react on the basis of our abstract concepts. We then feel validated or non-validated, pleased or displeased, vindicated or dismayed, optimistic or pessimistic, approving or disapproving, and so on. None of this has anything to do with reality however – it’s all just reactions as we have said, it’s all just ‘programmed responses’. The reaction is implicit in the thought, in the concept, and so nothing has actually happened. There reaction (whatever it is) was there all along! There’s nothing of us here – only null mechanical activity that has an astonishing capacity to absorb our attention and cause us to imagine something is going on when it isn’t.
When we are intimate with the contents of our consciousness, with what is actually going on right now, then this has nothing to do with like or dislike, approval or disapproval, being pleased or being displeased, and therefore nothing to do with feeling good or bad. It’s just ‘what happens to be arising at the moment’. What happens to be arising at the moment is unique to that moment and because it is unique it requires the whole of our attention. The unique always requires all of our attention; it doesn’t ‘soak up’ our attention like a sponge in the way that the products of the rational-conceptual mind do but rather it invites us to be present. It ‘reminds us to come back to ourselves’, as we might also say. This isn’t a demand but simply an invitation – there is no ‘compulsion to take the presented reality seriously’ as there always is with the generic output of the thinking mind. No one can be compelled to be present, after all. There can be no rule saying that ‘we have to be free’.
The generic picture that is presented to us by the thinking mind doesn’t invite us to be present, on the contrary it coerces (or tricks) us to be not present, it compels (or tricks) us to be ‘absent without knowing that we are absent’. What we are talking about here is an aggressive pseudo-reality, in other words. The generic image of reality doesn’t require the whole of our attention, as does the unique content of the present moment, but rather it demands a type of ‘partial attention’. It is straightforward to see why this should be so – whilst the unique does not lend itself to any procedure, any protocol, any established ‘way of doing things’, the generic always does. The ‘value’ of the generic element lies not in itself but rather in what can be done with it. The generic version of reality always slots into a pre-existent schema or format – that’s what makes it generic! The generic element has no reality of its own but only that which has been granted it by the over-arching ‘framework of interpretation’ and so it goes without saying that there is always a place for it within this context. The generic element always lends itself to processing, in other words; there is always some sort of ‘use’ that can be made of it and that is why the system values it. The system values itself, when it comes right down to it.
The generic output of the thinking mind always triggers a mechanical reaction, therefore. It insists that we respond in a predetermined way, in other words. Responding in a predetermined way means narrowing the attention, very clearly; the output of generic mind demands partial attention rather than full attention, as we have already said – it requires that we restrict our mental horizons so that we may interpret it in the way that has been designed to be interpreted. The ‘rational output’ comes with a particular perspective (or ‘framework’) that we automatically adapt to and saying that we ‘automatically adapt to a particular perspective or particular framework-of-interpretation’ is the same as saying that we are exchanging ‘being present’ for ‘being absent’. We’re no longer in the present moment, we’re in the abstract world that has been created by extrapolating our assumptions about the present moment. We’ve moved out of reality (which doesn’t come with a context) into the generic version of reality, which is a construct of the thinking mind. In short, we’ve swapped the territory for the map, and this means that we are no longer ‘present’.
Becoming absent (or ‘unconscious’) happens without us knowing what is happening. It occurs via a mechanical process that runs according to its own laws. Everything is – we might say – ‘done for us’ by the machinery and so we’re not ‘in it’ any more. Becoming conscious on the other hand cannot happen as a result of a mechanical process – the process of becoming unconscious cannot be reversed mechanically. Consciousness isn’t something we can gain as a result of devolving responsibility to a set of rules that are going to churn away in our absence to produce some sort of a specified or predetermined result! Consciousness happens when we ourselves start taking responsibility for how we see the world and how we act in it, rather than ‘farming that responsibility out’ to some mechanical system which will conveniently take care of everything for us.
The thing about the generic productions of the thinking mind is that they are of no value or interest in themselves, as we have always said. The ‘regular’ never is, of course! To make something ‘regular’ is to make something worthless – it’s only the idea that counts, it’s only the idea that we care about. This is exemplified by the place of the adapted person in society – it’s not our individuality that is valued by society but the role that we play, the job that we do, the ‘extent to which we have made ourselves what society wants us to be’. We gain worth by adapting ourselves to the given structure of things, in other words. If we’re non-adapted then we’re irrelevant, inconsequential and non-productive. ‘Non-adapted’ equals unique and unique is always error as far as the system is concerned. It doesn’t reflect the system’s values and so it has no value – it’s a ‘foreign body’ which has to be eliminated so that we can ‘press ahead with the Master Plan’.
We don’t attend to the generic product, the generic output, because there’s nothing to attend to. The product is of no worth in itself, is of no interest in itself. Its only value is its relevance to the ‘master plan’ (or the ‘over-all goal’) and that is where our attention is drawn, as if by a giant magnet. There’s nothing to attend to in the generic element and so we don’t give it any attention; instead our attention is straightaway deflected out onto what we are to do with that element, how we are to process it, what rule-based actions are to be carried out on its basis. Consciousness is lost to the mechanical activity, in other words. We never attend to what is actually going on right now when we’re in the mechanical or generic mode of existence, therefore, we always proceed straight to generic action that is predicated upon the idea that we have automatically superimposed on ‘what is actually going on right now’. We react, but we never actually see what we have reacted to…
Instead of giving our attention to what is going on (which is what we have called ‘getting intimate’ with the present moment) we create conceptual distance and conceptual distance simply means – as we keep saying – that we get triggered into predetermined action. Being triggered into a stereotypical or generic mode of action is a substitute (or analogue) for consciousness; instead of consciousness we have ‘mere mechanical activity’. This is really just ‘activity for the sake of activity’ (or controlling for the sake of controlling) because it isn’t achieving anything. Naturally it isn’t going achieve anything – it’s all based upon an assumption that isn’t actually real. Out of the unreal can come nothing but more unreality; when we start from an unreal starting point any journey that we might possibly make is always guaranteed to go nowhere.
Instead of being present with the uniqueness of what is really going on our attention flies off automatically in a predetermined direction. It heads on in prescribed trajectory. The thing about this however is that – in reality – there is no such thing as a predetermined direction, no such thing as a prescribed trajectory. We think that there is, but there isn’t. If we are talking in terms of a predetermined direction then what we’re saying is (of course) that there is nothing about the movement that takes place in this direction that is ever going to surprise us and if there’s nothing that is ever going to surprise us about us this movement that we’re engaged in then this means that there is no information in it. It’s a constant. It’s the same thing, repeated indefinitely. Nothing is really changing, nothing is really happening. We just think it is.
Saying that ‘predetermined directions’ don’t really exist is the same as saying that all types of change or movement that take place within the context of a given framework (or fixed context) are always ‘self-cancelling’ or ‘null’. Of course all movement that takes place within a framework is self-cancelling – all change that takes place in a framework is essentially circular and circles are circles because they don’t go anywhere, because they’re self-cancelling. Half of the movement of a circle is movement in a ‘positive’ direction and the other half is movement in the complementary ‘negative’ direction. Frameworks too are always made up of two complementary halves (for every positive coordinate there is an equal and opposite negative coordinate) and what this means is that a FW – overall – is a null domain, or ‘a domain with nothing in it’.
This is a truly remarkable thing to consider – not that we ever do consider it, of course! Rather than see the Polar Realm as being essentially null (which is quite undeniable!) we see it as a perfectly legitimate world in its own right. We see it as being the same thing as reality. Far from seeing the framework which is the thinking mind as being self-cancelling or null, we put it on a pedestal and see it as being ‘the measure of all things’. We don’t see the picture of reality that is presented to us by the rational-conceptual mind as being a null domain – on the contrary, we see it as being simply ‘the world’. And yet it is of course a null domain – it’s just a map or model. It is a map that is constructed on the basis of an over-arching framework of reference, a polar system made up of [+] versus [-], and frameworks are always null domains.
What all this shows is what happens to us when we relate to the world in a conceptual/rational/generic way instead of giving it our full rather than divided attention. What happens to us when we relate to the world in a conceptual way is that our attention – which is us! – gets deflected straightaway down the well-known highways and byways of the rational mind. We get shunted out of open-ended reality (which is the only reality there is) into the self-cancelling Polar Realm, the simulated (or virtual reality) world that is constructed within the closed terms of the assumed framework. We get swallowed up by this all-devouring framework in other words; we get subsumed by the null domain that we cannot see to be null and end up just like flies trapped in a sealed jam jar – buzzing ceaselessly this way and that but getting nowhere.
The entire ‘purposeful world’ – which is the world that is made up of our purposeful actions and the goal-orientated thinking which informs these actions – is a null domain. We are obsessed with the world that is made up of those outcomes which the rational mind can define for us and which we can – in theory – obtain on purpose, deliberately, strategically, calculatedly, by design, and yet this so-called world is no world at all but a sterile wasteland. It’s a jam jar with the lid screwed on tight. We’re not saying here that our purposeful actions – and the fruit of our purposeful action – are not sometimes pragmatically useful; what we’re saying is simply that when we make a world out of our purposeful doing and the rational thinking that lies behind it (as we do) then we are creating a desert more terrible than the Sahara, the Gobi, and the Kalahari deserts all joined together. This is the ‘infinite ocean of samsara’ spoken of by Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche in his poem.
‘Who we are’ always transcends our thoughts and purposeful actions; we would be no more than a function of our own rational/purposeful output if this were not the case. Life always transcends the domain that is made up by our goals for it and ideas about it – it wouldn’t be life otherwise, it would only be a sterile game. Life that doesn’t go beyond our restrictive ideas of it is not life but only a mechanical simulation, a type of ‘machine-analogue’ for reality that we don’t understand to be only an analogue. When we are ‘nothing but our thinking’ we’re not ourselves at all but only literal or concrete analogues thereof; we are in this case nothing more than ‘sub-routines’ – programmes that are being run by the machine for its own purposes. Our actual uniqueness – which is who we are – has been rejected by the system as an error, an anomaly that has no function.
If we want to stop being subroutines running in the machine – if we want to be part of life again – then we have to stop relating to the world in a generic way. We have to refrain from creating conceptual distance wherever we go. Instead, we have to actually engage with life; we have to ‘get intimate’ with what’s going on in the present moment. If we aren’t intimate with the present moment (if we aren’t interested in what’s going on right now, right here) then our fate has already been decided. We have handed over everything to the dead force of entropy and are as a result obliged to accept the consequences.
Our lack of genuine engagement or actual intimacy with the world and with ourselves (which inevitably translates into ‘lack of interest’) determines our fate – the ‘fate’ that we are talking about here being of course the fate of being swallowed up by the nullity. We get subsumed within a null domain. Nothing ever comes out of conceptual distance but more conceptual distance after all, and the thing about ‘conceptual distance’ is that it just doesn’t exist…
Author: Nick Williams
Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.